Chris Eubank Sr on early sparring and Nigel Benn bout

by Samuel Lee

Chris Eubank Sr on Johnny Walker Banks:

In The Bronx, I sparred with Davey Moore, Dennis Milton, Milton Guest, Kevin Bryant, Rey Rivera, Alex Ramos and Richard Burton on a regular basis, all successful at world-class amateur and pro level, but there was one guy who was head and shoulders above the rest – Johnny Walker Banks.

Banks apparently never fought amateur and made his living as a sparring partner to world champions Marvin Hagler, Michael Spinks and Muhammad Qawi. He was a gym fighter who fell apart when without head gear and under the bright lights, but he would routinely batter all of the above mentioned, including the world kings mentioned, when in the sparring ring.

He wanted paying for sparring so I never got in with him often because I was nobody and had no money, but on the occasions I did, he was the closest to Michael Watson in the Watson II fight. I remember trying to get in with Mike McCallum and Iran Barkley for free, but they were always deep in camp working with Richard Burton and Sosa instead.

On Dennis Cruz:

The fighter who influenced me was a gym fighter called Dennis Cruz, who I watched get the better of Gomez and Camacho and LaPorte in our gym. It was his delicacy of foot and elegance of jab, and poetry of maneuvers. It was like watching a world championship fight in a crowd of 15 or 20 people, with rain water dripping into buckets around us I had placed to catch it via the holes in the roof.

On Keith Bristol:

Every six weeks from September 1986 to June 1987, I spent a week or two in Brighton at my brothers’ flat, sleeping on the sofa, flying over from New York where I took a secretarial course at a South Bronx Technology College. I was a part-time security guard in New York City and spent all my money on traveling.

When I hit the speed balls at King Alfred Leisure Centre in Hove with single right hooks and single left uppercuts, just as I did in New York, I got kicked out of that gym! And when I sparred at Jack Pook’s gym, the fighters complained that I was too aggressive and hard-hitting, and so I was politely asked to leave that gym!

My brothers told me of a good light-heavyweight who needed a sparring partner at no charge and he trained above a public house in Streatham Common, so every six weeks I spent a week or two sparring with Keith Bristol in London, catching the Brighton to London train there and back.

He was the only one who could stand up to me, and said I was the only one he could find not charging who could stand up to him. He was very strong and more like a cruiserweight-build. He definitely built my strength up, sparring Keith Bristol.

When he retired, I went to the Lonsdale Gym on Beak Street in June 1987 and found the ABA champion Rod Douglas working out and preparing to become professional. I recalled watching him on Television at the Olympics and in his recent ABA win. I told him if he stood up to me and kept firing back for six rounds, I would give his team free sparring for him all summer, and so it happened.

Douglas was very strong and very gifted, and I said we would both be future world champions. His mistake was having the wrong management, fighting the 40- or 50-fight grandmaster genius boxer Herol Graham after just 13 or 14 pro outings.

On Errol Christie:

I searched high and low for appropriate sparring when I moved to the United Kingdom, but no fighter could stand with me and exchange violent outbursts for six to 10 rounds, which is what I needed and what I was used to in The Bronx. Tony Collins, Herol Graham and Johnny Nelson were on their bikes, and Steve and Paul McCarthy and Tony Burke and Andy Till weren’t close to my class.

But then Errol Christie walked into the Matchroom Gym in Romford with a big reputation and I challenged him. He had awesome hand speed and rolled with every shot, and we produced top-class boxing together there most days for the next two or three years. With headgear and 18oz gloves, Errol Christie was phenomenal.

On Shadow-Boxing:

From the time I first started boxing, right through my career I shadow-boxed probably more than any fighter I know of. That’s why my combinations flowed more than anyone elses, because without the resistance of a heavy bag or the impact of hitting a human body to affect your punches, it’s shadow-boxing that is the time to concentrate on throwing more than one at a time.

I would also squat and circle during my daily hour-long shadow-boxing sessions, making it a full-body workout while developing agility and lateral movement. I worked on circling clockwise, anti-clockwise, clockwise backwards, anti-clockwise backwards, side-stepping, stutter-stepping, cross-stepping with my back foot, stop-start stepping, changing direction, changing pace, changing stance, changing angle.

I believe my movement was revolutionary. I wanted to have the complete arsenal.

On Nigel Benn I:

My initial plan was to jab Benn relentlessly and counter any attacks he launched in between, but then I watched his win over Doug DeWitt live on ITV and could see that he had become a master of the right hand counter – that is, landing a looping right hand over the opponents jab. He destroyed DeWitt, who tried to jab Benn, with that counter, something he had obviously learned in America.

So I had to lead with the right hand relentlessly instead, and throw a lot of tight combinations to prevent him finding his range and distance. He caught me with a humungous right hand when I got so ambitious as to begin to lead with a right uppercut, and that found him his distance and range. My very soul shuddered at the point of impact of that shot – I knew he could punch extremely hard, but wasn’t expecting that kind of indescribable velocity.

When he started doubting himself and respecting me, with one eye nearly closed come the 5th, the fight was mine because I could simply wait, check and counter and prevent him throwing with only outside feinting.

He knocked me down in the 8th when he countered my jab with that previously mentioned counter right hand, though it was more a balance issue. But I must’ve knew the fight was mine from about the 5th, despite a few anxieties throughout that I could choke to death on my own blood or bleed so much internally that I pass out.